FBI probes companies in Brazil bribery case

The FBI is investigating corporate giants Johnson & Johnson, Siemens, General Electric and Philips for allegedly paying kickbacks as part of a scheme involving medical equipment sales in Brazil, two Brazilian investigators have told Reuters.

The firms are suspected by Brazilian prosecutors of channeling illegal payoffs to government officials to secure contracts with public health programs across the South American country over the past two decades.

Brazilian authorities say more than 20 companies may have been part of a “cartel” that paid bribes and charged the government inflated prices for medical gear such as magnetic resonance imaging machines and prosthetics.

The four multinationals, with a combined market capitalization of nearly $600 billion at Thursday’s market close, are the largest foreign enterprises to be investigated in an unprecedented anti-corruption push in Brazil in recent years.

The FBI would not confirm or deny the existence of any investigations.

Big U.S. and European firms found to have engaged in wrongdoing in Brazil could also face heavy fines and other punishment under the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Since 1977, that law has made it illegal for American citizens, U.S. companies or foreign companies whose securities are listed in the United States to pay foreign officials to win business.

— Reuters

Upper Mississippi has reopened to barges

The upper Mississippi River fully reopened to boat and barge traffic this week for the first time since November as shippers scrambled to move a backlog of overdue fertilizer barges to farmers racing to sow corn before the end of the month.

Some fertilizer shipments had been parked on river banks near St. Louis and further downriver for more than two months as the worst Midwest flooding since 1993 shuttered locks and triggered shipping restrictions on the flood-swollen waterway.

The U.S. Coast Guard lifted its shipping ban in the Mississippi River’s St. Louis harbor on Wednesday for the first time since May 2. The last upriver locks, some that were shuttered by floods in mid-March, just as they were due to open after routine winter closures, were reopened by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Thursday.

The shipping window may be short-lived, however, as heavy rains expected across the Midwest over the next week could again raise water levels on the river, the main U.S. artery for grain and fertilizer shipments.

— Reuters

Also in Business

Hewlett Packard Enterprise has agreed to buy U.S. supercomputer maker Cray in a deal valued around $1.4 billion as the firm works to become more competitive in high-end computing. The deal will help HP Enterprise strengthen its position against International Business Machines.

U.S. consumer sentiment jumped to the strongest level since 2004 on a surge in economic expectations amid unexpectedly strong growth, highlighting what's at risk amid a growing trade war with China. The University of Michigan's preliminary sentiment index rose to 102.4 in May. All of the gain was in the expectations index, which also climbed to a 15-year high, and the gauge of current conditions ticked up, the report Friday showed.

Target, known for its appeal to moms and kids, wants to get more guys through the door — and it's betting that juniper- and sandalwood-infused lotions will help. The cheap-chic retailer is taking its Goodfellow & Co apparel brand into the $9 billion U.S. men's grooming market on Sunday, with more than 30 products, including face scrubs, beard oil and even tattoo salve, all priced under $17. The move also illustrates Target's desire to get more out of its growing stable of private labels.

Eighteen large institutional investors in General Motors banded together Friday to tell GM they want the carmaker to take aggressive action to protect federal fuel economy standards. GM has said it wants one national fuel economy standard modeled on the existing zero emissions vehicle program in California. But the investors said GM's position will weaken the current standards and undermine California's authority to set strict standards.

— From news services